UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly on Thursday formally launched inter-governmental negotiations aimed at expanding the 15-member Security Council to make it more representative and more effective, with Pakistan calling for the decisions to be taken by "widest possible consensus". At the initiative of Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, members held a closed-door plenary session chaired by Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin, who was tasked with shepherding the negotiations, expected to last for several months. "Our positions will conform to the principles of sovereign equality of states and equitable geographical distribution," Pakistan's UN Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon told an informal meeting of the 192-member assembly which is discussing five key issues, including the size, composition and power of an expanded council. Pakistan has consistently advocated a negotiated solution to the stalled reform of the council, insisting that decisions by voting would divide the membership. "We shall work for a reform model that is responsive to the substantial increase in the number of developing countries in the UN membership since the 60s," the Pakistan ambassador said in an obvious reference to dominance of the big powers in the council. "We would prioritise regional interests over individual interests, through accommodation of positions of all member states and regional and other groupings, including in particular Africa and the OIC." The council's reform, which got underway some 16 years ago, was backed by the 2005 world summit held at UN Headquarters in New York. There is widespread support for revamping the UN's most powerful organ to reflect current global realities rather than the international power structure after World War II when the United Nations was created. But all previous attempts, starting in 1979, have failed because rivalries between countries and regions blocked agreement on how to expand the council. The Security Council, which is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, has 15 seats. It includes 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms that come from all regions of the world, and there are five permanent members with veto power whose support is essential for any reform to be adopted - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. Despite the general agreement on enlarging the council, member states remain sharply divided over the details. In July 2005, the so-called Group of Four - India, Germany, Japan and Brazil - aspired to permanent seats without veto rights on a 25-member council, with six new permanent seats without veto power, including two for the African region, and four additional non-permanent seats. The Italy/Pakistan-led "Uniting for Consensus" (UfC) group opposed any expansion of the permanent members on the Security Council. It sought enlargement of the council to 25 seats, with 10 new non-permanent members who would be elected for two-year terms, with the possibility of immediate re-election. The African Union's called for the Council to be enlarged to 26 seats, one more permanent seat than the G-4 proposal. Its proposal for six new permanent seats was the same as the G-4's, except that it would give the new members veto power. "The willingness to find a negotiated solution is a significant shift from the divisiveness of the past," the Pakistan ambassador said, referring the last December's decision to build consensus on taking this process forward towards a "negotiated" solution. "It offers an opportunity for a breakthrough, for a reform that is no longer hostage to the ambitions of a few, but that would accommodate the interests and positions of all member states, and promote the larger objectives of the United Nations Organization, thus enhancing its unity, effectiveness, credibility and legitimacy." Terming the start of the negotiations as an important landmark, Ambassasdor Haroon assured that Pakistan will play an active and constructive role in the process. "This is a historic day in the United Nations," D'Escoto, the assembly president, said. "Finally, today, we are about to enter into the substance of this reform." Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, whose country recently hosted a ministerial meeting of 80 countries to discuss remaking the council, said that "everybody feels the pressure of the international situation - be it in the peace and security (area), be it in the financial aspect." But Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui said he viewed the negotiations as a continuation of talks in the assembly's working group. "The problems remain," he said. "We have to see how people present their views in this new forum." German Ambassador Thomas Matussek, whose country is seeking a permanent seat as a reflection of its economic might, said prospects for compromise "are better than they were before, because against the backdrop of the international financial and economic crisis everybody talks about global governance." The question, he said, is whether countries want the world to be run by small groups of economically and politically powerful nations or "by the only legitimate global institution that we have, and that is the U.N." D'Escoto, the General Assembly President, said the first negotiations, on March 4, will tackle the different categories of Security Council membership. That session will be followed by meetings on the veto and regional representation later in March. The size of an enlarged council and its working methods as well as the relationship between the council and the General Assembly will be up for consideration in April. A second round of negotiations is scheduled for May. Chances for a deal remain to be seen, and some diplomats said talks could stretch into next year. US Ambassador Susan Rice said President Barack Obama's administration supports council expansion "in a way that will not diminish its effectiveness or its efficiency." "We will make a serious, deliberate effort, working with partners and allies, to find a way forward that enhances the ability of the Security Council to carry out its mandate and effectively meet the challenges of the new century," she said. China's Yesui said Beijing supports expansion of the Security Council "and we think priority should be given to an increase of the representation of developing countries, particularly from African countries."